Lone Wolf McQuade

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1983

Orion Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Directed by Steve Carver

Produced by Yoram Ben-Ami/Steve Carver

Written by H. Kaye Dyal/B.J. Nelson

Music by Francesco De Masi

In “Star Trek” there’s an alternative/parallel dimension called The Mirror Universe. If you’re a good guy in this universe, in The Mirror Universe you’re a bad guy and vice versa. I only mention this in reference to this review because when “Walker, Texas Ranger” premiered on CBS in 2005 I watched it and the thought came to me that Cordell Walker was The Mirror Universe version of our LONE WOLF McQUADE. I mean, there’s no getting around it. The only difference between the two is that Cordell Walker is a much friendlier guy and kills way fewer people than J.J. McQuade. He also talks a lot more. A whole lot more. And if Chuck Norris had been able to pry Lone Wolf McQuade away from Orion Pictures (who owns the character) we might well have had ten seasons of a “Lone Wolf McQuade” TV series. Which wouldn’t have been a bad thing at all. J.J. McQuade is easily good enough of a character that can sustain a TV or movie series. And it’s a shame he didn’t. But we do have this one movie and while I consider “Code of Silence” to be Chuck’s best, it’s this one that is my favorite.

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J.J. McQuade (Chuck Norris) is a highly decorated former Marine and now an even more highly decorated Texas Ranger working out of El Paso. He prefers to work alone, thereby giving rise to his legend as a “lone wolf.” His only companions is his pet wolf, his supercharged Dodge Ramcharger (which has enough personality to qualify as a supporting character in my eyes) and his retired fellow Ranger Dakota (L.Q. Jones). McQuade is divorced, of course. With the exception of Roger Murtaugh no cinematic law officer worth his badge can be happily married with a nurturing home life and still do his job. He lives in a wreck of a trailer in the middle of the desert with the wolf and apparently his sole source of nourishment is beer. Seriously. Watch the movie for yourself and I defy you to find me a scene where McQuade takes so much as single bite of food. He goes into a restaurant and doesn’t ask for an appetizer. He asks for a beer and keep ‘em comin’.

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McQuade’s boss (the always dependable R. G. Armstrong) is determined to make McQuade a team player so he partners him with the green as a Christmas tree rookie State Trooper Arcadio ‘Kayo’ Ramos (Robert Beltran). McQuade has no time for a partner. He’s on the trail of military grade weapons that are in the hands of people who have no business having them and romancing local wealthy socialite Lola Richardson (Barbara Carrera) who he met while Lola rescued McQuade’s daughter Sally (Dana Kimmell) when Sally’s horse ran wild. It’s not easy romancing Lola as her business partner Rawley Wilkes (David Carradine) has his eyes on making her much more than a business partner.

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It isn’t until FBI Special Agent Jackson (Leon Isaac Kennedy) arrives to investigate the hi-jacking of a U.S. Army convoy that Wilkes himself is revealed as being an international arms merchant. He gets his merchandise by hijacking U.S. Army shipments. The stakes are upped considerably by a couple of brutal deaths and the kidnapping of McQuade’s daughter which leads to an ultimate showdown between The Lone Wolf Lawman and The Mad Dog Criminal.

Hey, don’t blame me. That’s how it was billed on the movie poster. Go on back up to the top of this review and read it for yourself if you don’t believe it. The showdown between Norris and Carradine was hyped as the reason to come see the movie during it’s original theatrical run. It’s kind of a gyp, though, as Carradine had it written into his contract that his character could not be beaten in hand-to-hand combat by Norris’ character. The movie does a good job of teasing us all through the movie until we get to that showdown, having Norris and Carradine bump heads a couple of times just enough to bark and bite at each other before they finally throw down.

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But until we get there, just sit back, relax and have fun. LONE WOLF McQUADE is an extremely well made modern day version of those classic Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s and 1970s. It lets you know that right from the beginning with the opening credits. Look at the font of the letters and how the credits glide across the screen. Listen to the music which sounds like left-over microwaved Ennio Morricone. Francesco De Masi, who indeed scored many Spaghetti Westerns before Morricone started his career composed the movie film score. Supposedly De Masi swiped much of Morricone’s score from “Once Upon A Time In The West” for this one. While I think that’s stretching it, I can hear a lot of Morricone in the score and that only adds to the enjoyment of the mayhem.

Norris allows himself to be a little more brutal, a little grungier, a little surlier than he does in most of his other movies. J.J. McQuade has no problem getting as down and dirty as the bad guys and as a result this gives McQuade a little harder edge than your usual Chuck Norris hero. I also like how McQuade’s stylized way of dressing and wearing his nickel-plated S&W Model 29/.44 Magnum gives him the aspect of a superhero. He must have at least two dozen Calvary Bib shirts (the kind with the flap on front) that he wears during the course of the movie, all different primary colors. And he never wears the same one twice.

L.Q. Jones is just as dependable as R.G. Armstrong (he should be…they’ve been in just about the same amount of westerns…a lot of them as co-stars) and he’s got a terrific rapport with Norris. And speaking of which; the pairing of Chuck Norris with Barbara Carrera should not work as well as it does. Only in an 80’s Action Movie would those two be put together as a romantic couple but damn if they don’t make it work. They even make rolling around in a mud puddle while making passionate love seem plausible. And only Barbara Carrera could make gathering her skirt to sit down on a bed sexier than any other woman  doing a full-blown strip-tease.

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Surprisingly enough, I got to give Robert Beltran some applause here. Despite this being one of his earliest roles he’s more fun and far more interesting to watch in the 1 hour and 47 minute running time of LONE WOLF McQUADE than he was in seven years of “Star Trek: Voyager.” As for David Carradine…well, what can be said about him? Give him a good guy to play and he’s kinda lost. Give him an oddball antihero, societal outsider or straight-up Bad Guy to work with and he’s nothing less than magic. If there’s any major problem with LONE WOLF McQUADE is that they don’t have enough screen time together. As for Leon Isaac Kennedy…to be honest, outside of the “Penitentiary” movies he’s never really turned my crank and his role here could have been played by anyone. Not that he’s a bad actor, mind you but when you can’t even steal a scene from Chuck Norris maybe it’s time for you to reconsider your career.

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So should you see LONE WOLF McQUADE? What, you mean you haven’t seen it? Philistine. It’s just about what I consider a damn near perfect Action Movie. Even more than that…it’s a damn near perfect Chuck Norris Action Movie. The screenplay is nothing but Plot and relies upon the actors to provide The Story. What do I mean by that? Just this: Plot Is What Happens. Story Is Who It Happens To. And thanks to a very talented cast that knows how to fill in Plot with Story, LONE WOLF McQUADE is more than worth your time if you’re looking for solid entertainment for a Friday or Saturday movie night at home. People who don’t know anything about Chuck Norris and ask me where to begin I always tell them; start with LONE WOLF McQUADE.

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1 hr 47 minutes

Rated PG

 

 

Mad Max: Fury Road

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Warner Bros./Kennedy-Miller-Mitchell/Village Roadshow Pictures

2015

Directed by George Miller

Produced by Doug Mitchell/George Miller/P.J Voeten

Written by George Miller/Brendan McCarthy/Nico Lathouris

With all the deserved praise that he’s been getting for MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, nobody seems to have mentioned that George Miller has revived a time honored movie tradition that has been forgotten in our age of reboot fever: he just simply recast a new actor to play Max Rockatansky aka Mad Max.  He didn’t reboot the series or felt that he had to explain why Max hasn’t aged in the thirty years between this movie and “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.” In fact, through some subtle visual clues such as Tom Hardy wearing the same jacket and leg brace that Mel Gibson did in the three previous Mad Max adventures, Miller lets us know this is the same guy. Hardy even gets to briefly drive the iconic black V8 Interceptor.

But he doesn’t feel the need to work some kind of jiggery pokery as to why Mad Max is now Tom Hardy and not Mel Gibson. He simply presents MAD MAX: FURY ROAD as another adventure of his signature character. You can take it or leave it. And in fact, that attitude runs throughout the entire movie. It’s a perfect example of that old adage: “Show. Don’t Tell.” Miller doesn’t waste our time having his characters stand around mouthing meaningless exposition, explaining things to each other that they already know or filling us in on the background of this visually deranged world. Miller’s attitude seems to be: “Here’s the characters. Here’s the situation. Now sit back and watch the damn movie.”

Mad Max (Tom Hardy) is captured by the soldiers of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) who holds sway over a hoard of worshippers due to his control of an unlimited supply of water in the middle of a desert wasteland somewhere in Australia. Immortan Joe has used the water to create an oasis where he lives with his private army, known as The War Boys and his Five Wives. They are all women of exceptional beauty he uses strictly for breeding.

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Max is kept alive and used an an unwilling blood donor for Nux (Nicholas Hoult). While trying to figure out a way to escape, Joe’s right-hand woman Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) helps The Five Wives do just that very thing, hijacking the heavily armored War Rig. She intends to take them to The Green Place where she grew up. Once he discovers his wives are gone, Immortan Joe takes off after Furiosa with not only his War Boys but the armies of Gas Town and The Bullet Farm as well. Nux joins the pursuit with Max strapped to the front of his car and during that pursuit Max manages to escape and joins up with Furiosa and The Five Wives.

And that’s really all you need to know about the movie. What you’re getting is a two-hour epic car chase that is like a deliriously demented “Smokey and The Bandit” on acid. This is one of those movies that I watch in genuine amazement that nobody got killed working on this thing. It’s even more of an impressive achievement when you realize that most of the stunts and effects were done practically, at George Miller’s insistence. The use of CGI was used only when absolutely necessary and it’s actually Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron performing most of their stunts.

And speaking of Charlize Theron, she’s absolutely astounding here. The only other movie I can recall where she de-glamorized herself to this degree was “Monster.” Her role as Furiosa isn’t as dramatically daring as that of Aileen Wuronos but it’s no less captivating as she’s the best female action hero since Sigourney Weaver in “Aliens.” Yes, she’s that badass. Easily the equal of Tom Hardy’s Mad Max. They’re both warriors and survivors and come to respect each other because of their respective abilities to stay alive in this insane world. There’s no phony tacked on romance between them. They don’t have time for that bullshit. There’s only time to stay alive and ahead of the three armies chasing after them trying to kill them.

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Just on a purely visual level MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is brilliant. The vehicles on display are bizarre and just plain wacko. The Doof Wagon has to be seen to be believed. It’s a stage on wheels with six drummers banging away on drums while a guitarist swings back and forth on bungee cords playing heavy metal on a flame throwing guitar to Immortan Joe’s War Boys as they charge into battle.

Taking into account that he’s 70 years old, the imaginative visual power and energy of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is nothing less than astounding. Miller throws ideas and concepts up on screen for a couple of minutes that other filmmakers would make whole movies out of. You’d expect this kind of movie from a younger director, eager to show off what he can do.

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And maybe that makes all the difference. George Miller already knows what he can do. He did it before with “Mad Max” and with “The Road Warrior” which revolutionized the modern action movie. And he does it again with MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. If you haven’t seen it yet, stop procrastinating. It’s definitely one of the best movies of 2015.

Rated R

120 Minutes

 

The Gunman

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2015

Anton Capital Entertainment/Canal+/Silver Pictures/TF1 Films Production/Open Road Films

Directed by Pierre Morel

Produced by Adrian Guerra/Sean Penn/Peter McAleese/Andrew Rona/Joel Silver

Screenplay by Don Macpherson/Pete Travis/Sean Penn

Based on the novel “The Prone Gunman” by Jean-Patrick Manchette

Just going by the trailers I saw for THE GUNMAN I figured that Sean Penn was throwing himself into the same pool that Liam Neeson, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin Costner, Arnold Schwarzenegger and their ilk are already swimming in: becoming a credible and legitimate Action Movie Hero even being over the age of 50. And actually, being over 50 works for Sean Penn in this role as he’s now got a face that looks lived in. It’s the face of a man who’s experienced life.

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Now to be fair, Sean Penn was never any rival to Rob Lowe or Keanu Reeves in the looks department even when he was younger. But one thing I like about the Over 50 Action Movie Hero is that these guys look like Men and not like little pretty boys playing Tough Guy. Sean Penn could have a career in Action Movies just going on physicality alone. Seriously, the cat has been doing some working out. In the theater I saw THE GUNMAN in, I heard quite a few gasps from the ladies during scenes where Sean Penn had his shirt off. His musculature is quite impressive. Such a shame that the movie itself isn’t as impressive. Halfway through the movie I also heard quite a few snores.  Liam Neeson’s got nothing to worry about. If THE GUNMAN is the best Sean Penn can come up with then he needs to rethink this whole Action Movie thing.

Movie review: 'Gunman' shows Penn preachy, violent and a bit out-of-date

Jim Terrier (Sean Penn) is a member of a covert black ops team of military contractors working in The Congo. They’re undercover, waiting for their opportunity to assassinate a high level minister who is standing in the way of a major western corporation lusting after The Congo’s mineral wealth they wish to exploit. It’s Jim who actually pulls the trigger on the minister and is forced to flee, leaving behind his girlfriend Annie (Jasmine Trinca) to seek comfort in the arms of Jim’s friend Felix (Javier Bardem) who plays his role so broadly he does everything but wear a billboard saying: “You Will Curse Me For My Sudden But Inevitable Betrayal”

Years later, Jim is working as a volunteer in a African village and seems to have put his violent past behind him. Not. A hit team comes to take Jim out and instead gets took. Jim connects the dots based on things the members of the hit team said and their equipment and deduces that somebody wants him dead for the assassination he did. But who? Is it Felix who is now married to Annie and doesn’t appreciate Jim coming back to break up his happy home? Is it Cox (Mark Rylance) another member of the team who is now the CEO of his own international military contracting corporation? Whose side is Interpol agent Barnes (Idris Elba) on? Jim bounces from London to Barcelona and back, trusting only in the assistance of his former mentor Stanley (Ray Winstone) to help him figure out who’s trying to kill him and why.

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Sounds like exciting stuff, don’t it? And somewhere in THE GUNMAN there is a solid, pulpy action thriller. Unfortunately director Pierre Morel forgot the action and instead we get long stretches of dialog between Penn and the other members of the cast as they debate the morality of privatized military corporations, international politics, the raping of Third World resources by the U.S. and half a dozen other weighty subjects that are certainly relevant and need to be discussed. But not in a movie that bills itself as an action thriller and was directed by Pierre Morel, the man who directed the first “Taken” and “District B13” one of the best and most high octane Action Movies ever made.

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Sean Penn is certainly game and his (few) fight scenes and gunfights show that he’s got the chops for this kind of stuff. But the painfully slow pace of the movie and the overcooking of the plot works against him. Sean Penn’s acting certainly isn’t at fault here. Like Liam Neeson, he actually can act and that gives an Action Movie of this sort more gravitas than it actually needs. But Neeson knows how to make that work for him and Penn hasn’t mastered that yet. THE GUNMAN could have done with less with speeches about corporate imperialism and the destabilization of the Congo and more with a goofy dose of pure adrenaline. Wait for this one to show up on Netflix.

Rated R

115 Minutes

Run All Night

 

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2015

Vertigo Entertainment/Energy Entertainment/Warner Bros. Pictures

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

Produced by Roy Lee/ Michael Tadross/ Brooklyn Weaver

Written by Brad Ingelsby

Sunday rolls around and as usual I check out the results of Biff Bam Pop!’s box office predictions. On Friday they predict the box office numbers for whatever movies are opening that weekend and then Sunday they post the actual numbers. It’s always fun seeing what they got right and just as much fun seeing what they got wrong. They’ve also got a truckload of other fun stuff going on there that you should check out at your earliest opportunity (like, after you finish reading this review. Nudge nudge wink wink)

Anyway, they predicted that RUN ALL NIGHT, the newest Liam Neeson action movie would take in $14 million. It actually made $10. Which kinda surprised me as Liam Neeson has been a dependable action movie star since 2008’s “Taken” Yes, I know he’s been a badass in movies long before that in movies such as “Rob Roy” and “The Phantom Menace” but for the sake of this discussion let’s stick with contemporary action movies, okay?

Can it be that audiences are growing tired of Liam Neeson in action movies? Sure, he’s made a couple of stinkers. Most recently “Non-Stop” and “Taken 3” but he’s mostly delivered solid, entertaining B-level action movies that I appreciate as homages to Action Movies of the 1980s. And RUN ALL NIGHT (which I would have gone to see just for the title) is one of his better ones. Of his recent movies it’s not as good as “A Walk Among The Tombstones” but it steps all over “Taken 3”

Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) once a feared hitman working for Irish mob boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris) is now considered a joke by the other members of Shawn’s gang. So deadly and dangerous was Jimmy back in the day that he was known as ‘The Gravedigger.’ Even though Jimmy hasn’t whacked anybody in years, NYPD Detective John Harding (Vincent D’Onofrio) is still looking to put him away. Jimmy almost wishes somebody would put him out of his misery. Consumed with guilt and despondent after the death of his wife, he’s drinking what’s left of his life away. Shawn looks after him, makes sure Jimmy has booze and walking around money. You get the impression in the movie’s early scenes they have together that Shawn maybe thinks that their positions could very easily have been reversed.

In a truly convoluted series of events that reminds me of Rule #19 of ‘Pixar’s 22 Rules For Phenomenal Storytelling.” Shawn’s son Danny (Boyd Holbrook) ends up dead, killed by Jimmy. Shawn promises that Jimmy’s son Mike (Joel Kinnaman) will die before Jimmy but Mike’s got his own problems as he’s wanted by the police for the murders of a cop and a pair of Albanian heroin dealers. Mike’s a working stiff with a wife and two daughters who wants nothing to do with any of this and wants to turn himself in but Jimmy asks for just one night to make everything right. It’s not easy convincing Mike as he absolutely hates his father and his life as a criminal. But he soon realizes that he’s now in a pool of sharks his father used to swim in with ease as he used to be the biggest shark of them all.

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Huh? Where’d all that come from you may well ask. I told you it was convoluted. But it’s a good convoluted. There’s a meaty plot at work in RUN ALL NIGHT and you have to pay attention in order to keep up with what’s going on. But I didn’t mind. This is an action movie that’s more concerned that you understand the relationships between the characters rather than how much real estate can be blown up or how many shootouts can be crammed in for no good reason at all. That’s not to say that there aren’t shoot-ups and explosions enough to satisfy any respectable action junkie. There is. But the movie really wants to say something about the relationship and obligations between fathers and sons and the lengths fathers will go through to redeem themselves for the sins they pass onto their sons.

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Weighty stuff, right? Well, don’t worry. It doesn’t get bogged down in all that for long. Thanks to an exceptionally strong supporting cast including Bruce McGill, who makes a definite presence in the movie despite the fact that I believe he has only two lines. And no, I’m not trying to be funny. Common is an assassin named Mr. Price and there’s a surprise cameo by an extremely well known actor that may well have you shaking your head, muttering; “Who the hell let him in this movie?”

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And at the center of the movie are the really excellent performances of Liam Neeson and Ed Harris. They’re terrific at playing a pair of criminals who have lived this life for a long time and know how their current situation has to play out. But they take no joy or pleasure in it. In fact, there’s a lot of grief and regret on both sides. But they know no other way to resolve this tragedy other than with more death. There’s a scene they have in a restaurant that may remind you of a similar scene between Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro in “Heat.”  No, I’m not saying it’s that good but there’s the same kind of vibe at work there. If you see the movie you’ll know what I’m talking about.

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So should you see RUN ALL NIGHT? If you felt burned by “Taken 3” by all means don’t let that stop you from seeing this one. It’s a solid crime thriller backed up with a firm story and performances that elevate the movie a few notches above what you might expect. Well worth your time and money.

Rated R

114 Minutes

Brick Mansions

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2014

EuropaCorp/Warner Bros./Relativity Media

Directed by Camille Delamarre

Produced by Luc Besson, Ryan Kavanaugh and Tucker Tooley

Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen

I’m gonna save you a lot of time if you want to go back to web surfing, Tweeting or Facebooking. If you’ve seen the 2004 French action film “District B13” then there is absolutely no reason for you to spend your time on BRICK MANSIONS. Not that it’s a bad movie, mind you. BRICK MANSIONS is the filmic equivalent of a Big Mac, large order of fries and a large Coke and if that’s what you’re in the mood for, then it’s all good. Turns out that I just happened to be in that mood and so, even though I’ve seen “District B13” I enjoyed BRICK MANSIONS for what it was.

In the near future, organized crime, uncontrollable violence due to gang warfare and drug dealing has turned the Detroit inner city housing project of Brick Mansions into a war zone. Unable to deal with the savagery, the authorities build a forty foot high containment wall around Brick Mansions, sealing it off from the rest of Detroit. The police set up roadblocks and checkpoints to prevent anybody from going in or out of Brick Mansions. It is controlled completely by the ganglords who rule like feudal lords over those citizens who were too poor to leave when they had the chance.

Undercover police officer Damien Collier (Paul Walker) dreams of the day when he can take down Tremaine Alexander (RZA) drug kingpin and arms dealer who is the unofficial mayor of Brick Mansions. Collier believes Alexander is responsible for his father’s death. Collier gets his chance to get close to Alexander when a genuine mission impossible is handed to him. Alexander has stolen a prototype neutron bomb that is going to detonate in 12 hours. Collier is assigned to get to the bomb and defuse it via a numeric code that will be given to him if he reaches the bomb in time.

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That’s a mighty big if but Collier is given help to do his job in the form of Lino Dupree (David Belle) a man of superhuman agility and athleticism who has taken it upon himself to stop Alexander’s drug dealing on his block. Collier isn’t sure he wants Dupree’s help once he finds out that Dupree killed a cop (don’t shed any tears, he was as dirty as a Kansas City whorehouse) and Dupree isn’t happy about teaming up with a cop as he distrusts any and all authority. All that goes out the window when they find out that Alexander has bolted the bomb to a Russian missile he just happens to have lying around and has tied Lino’s girlfriend Lola (Catalina Denis) to the missile. Alexander wants $30 million and if he doesn’t get it, he’s going to fire the missile right into downtown Detroit. From then on it’s a race against time as our heroes have to battle their way through Alexander’s limitless supply of thugs to get to that bomb before it goes off.

And that’s all there is to it. BRICK MANSIONS doesn’t waste a lot of time in setting up the situation and introducing our characters then putting them into play. This is a stripped down action movie with just enough characterization so that we understand why Collier and Dupree are doing what they’re doing and no more. Anything else we need to know, we pick up along the way.

BRICK MANSIONS is one of the movies completed by Paul Walker before his tragically untimely death and it’s by no means a demanding role but one he does effectively. He’s not trying to build a character here and actually, with a little tweaking of the script and changing the name, this movie could easily have been sold as a prequel to the “Fast and Furious” franchise as an adventure Brian O’Conner had before he hooked up with Dominic Toretto and his crew. That’s how similar the Collier character is to O’Conner. Walker doesn’t even try to give this guy a different look from O’Conner.  In fact, Walker goes through much of the movie wearing the same T-shirt, jeans and sneakers I’m pretty damn sure he wore in “Fast Five” and there’s two highly contrived car chases that weren’t in the original movie that I’m positive were placed in this one solely to get Paul Walker behind the wheel.

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Even though it was ten years since he starred in the original, David Belle doesn’t look as if he’s aged a day or slowed down a bit since then. Mr. Belle is one of the founders of parkour and his film work has helped to spread the art of parkour around the world. And with good reason. Watching him in motion is nothing less than breathtaking and reminds us that the best special effect in the world is the human body. In BRICK MANSIONS, David Belle recreates the opening scene in “DistrictB13” where after destroying 20 kilos of cocaine with bleach he escapes a gang of vicious thugs using parkour. Having seen the original just a couple of days ago, that scene is still fresh in my mind and it looked to me like Mr. Belle hadn’t lost a step in the recreation. The man looks as if he’s defying gravity as he leaps from rooftop to rooftop, swings from fire escape to fire escape, runs, leaps and dives in and out of windows. It’s exhilarating. But it’s too bad there’s not more it. One reason to watch “District B13” is because of the amazing parkour performed not only by David Belle but by his co-star in that movie, Cyril Raffaelli.

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RZA walks away with the “Who The Hell Let HIM In This Movie?” award. I give him big ups for not playing your stereotypical drug kingpin. Tremaine Alexander has unexpected depth and solid motivation for why he does what he does that pays off in the movie’s third act which seemed to me took the movie in a sudden direction wanting to become a profound statement on class in American society. Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Black Belt holder Ayisha Issa shows an extreme amount of promise as a character that could have been a James Bond type of supervillain enforcer.
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So should you see BRICK MANSIONS? Let me put it to you this way: if you’ve got ninety minutes to kill and you’re in the mood for a no frills action movie I say why not?  I myself have a great affection for this type of action movie I’m glad to see has come back into popularity. Action movies with no wires, no CGI, not filmed on virtual sets and with practical effects and real stuntmen doing real stunts. But it’s by no means a movie you have to rush out to see. It’s available for streaming on Netflix and if you catch it in the right mood on a Friday or Saturday night, I think you’ll have fun with it.

 PG-13

90 Minutes

 

Sabotage

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2014

Albert S. Ruddy Productions

Directed by David Ayer

Produced by Bill Block, David Ayer, Ethan Smith, Paul Hanson and Palek Patel

Written by Skip Woods and David Ayer

I’m going to put my neck out there and say that I truly and honestly admire Arnold Schwarzenegger for what he does in SABOTAGE. This is a Schwarzenegger who realizes that he would look downright silly trying to do the same kind of action movie he did back in the 1980’s. He can’t be the One Man Army Killing Machine anymore. Sure, he’s still in better shape than 90% of us but he’s no kid anymore. And he doesn’t try to hide it unlike the other two members of The Holy Trinity of Action Movie Heroes. Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis are still trying to convince us they’re still able to pull off stunts they did 30 years ago. But not Schwarzenegger.  He’s got respect for our intelligence. Oh, he still does physical stuff but nothing like the stunts he did in say, “Commando” or “Eraser” These days he’s relying a lot more on story, characterization and supporting casts to give his movies weight.

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SABOTAGE isn’t a movie he could have made back in the 1980’s. He had to wait until now to make a movie like this where he could make his age work for him and for the character he plays. Don’t get me wrong…this isn’t Schwarzenegger doing Hamlet (and I still say he should have done it. Who in their right mind wouldn’t pay to see that?) but he certainly doesn’t embarrass himself.

John “Breacher” Warthon (Arnold Schwarzenegger) ramrods an elite team of wildass DEA agents. These agents are just one notch above being full blown renegades. A couple of them (Sam Worthington and Max Martini) appear to have severe psychological issues while Lizzie (Mireille Enos) is the team’s loose cannon, brazenly flaunting her drug habit and sexual promiscuity in the faces of her boss, her teammates and her husband (Worthington)

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During a raid on a cartel safehouse, Breacher and his team help themselves to $10 million of the cartel’s money and blow up the rest to cover their theft. They hide the $10 million but when they go to recover it, they’re pissed off beyond words to find it’s gone. In the meantime, the DEA has somehow found out about the stolen money. Breacher is put on a desk job and his team suspended pending an investigation. Six months later and with no concrete evidence tying them to the money, Breacher and his team are reinstated.

Turns out that isn’t a favor at all as a couple of team members are gruesomely killed and there’s only two possibilities: either the cartel is killing off Breacher’s team in revenge for stealing their money or it’s a team member who is killing his (or her) partners to keep all the money for themselves. Either way, Breacher’s stuck in the middle. Unable to trust his team or the DEA, he has to rely on the help of Investigator Caroline Brentwood (Olivia Williams) the homicide cop assigned to the case. But can Inspector Brentwood trust Breacher? Because during the course of her investigation she discovers that Breacher just may have more motivation than anybody else on his team to steal and kill for the money.

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By now you should have tumbled to the fact that Schwarzenegger isn’t playing his usual good guy. In fact, this may be the closest we’ll get to see him playing a bad guy as Breacher nor his team are likeable characters. In fact, they’re all really not much better than the criminals they go after. But that’s okay by me. I don’t need my characters to be likeable. As long as I understand their motivations for doing what they do, I’m cool.

The supporting cast in SABOTAGE is an unusually strong one for an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie and yet another sign that you’re not getting your usual Schwarzenegger Shoot-Em-Up. Terrence Howard and Josh Holloway are members of Breacher’s team while Harold Perrineau is a cop partnered with Brentwood and provides the movie with much needed comedy relief. Believe it or not, it’s Sam Worthington who walks off with the acting honors in this movie as well as Mireille Enos. Their characters are complicated enough to deserve a movie of their own. They’re married DEA agents who have long ago surrendered to corruption and spiritual degradation in the pursuit of justice. Mirelle Enos just about steals the movie from everybody in sight during the third act.

What else? Oh, the violence…seriously, this just may be the most violent movie Schwarzenegger has made and considering his track record, that’s really saying something. Director David Ayer is not interested in cartoon violence or the glorification of it. The violence in SABOTAGE is amazingly cruel, bloody and horrifically messy. And Schwarzenegger has got quite the potty mouth as well. I gave up counting after his twentieth F-bomb.

So should you see SABOTAGE? If you’re a longtime Arnold Schwarzenegger fan like me you probably already have. But if you haven’t, give it a chance. It’s not his usual action movie and has far more of a mystery thriller aspect than the trailers would lead you to think. I appreciate him always trying to expand the range of what he can do in films and I think that with movies like this and “Escape Plan” in which he also played a different kind of character than we’re used to seeing, he’s showing that Arnold Schwarzenegger still has a lot to offer us.

109 minutes

Rated R

 

Escape Plan

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2013

Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate

Directed by Mikael Hafstrom

Produced by Robbie Brenner and Mark Canton

Screenplay by Jason Keller and Miles Chapman

Story by Miles Chapman

My guess is that Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger had way more fun acting together than they thought they would in the two “Expendables” movies. In the first “Expendables” Stallone and Schwarzenegger shared the screen (along with Bruce Willis) for maybe two or three minutes. “The Expendables 2” gave Stallone and Schwarzenegger more screen time together but ESCAPE PLAN has them truly co-starring for the first time in an action movie together. And let’s be honest, seeing two of the greatest and most successful action stars of the 80’s in a movie together is the drawing power of this movie. What surprised me is that there also was a damn good story to go along with the pairing of Stallone and Schwarzenegger with Ah-nuld doing some really good acting.

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Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) is partnered with Lester Clark (Vincent D’Onofrio) in a highly unusual security firm. Ray is an absolute genius at breaking out of maximum security prisons. To date he’s broken out of 14. The goal is to show where the weaknesses in the prison security are so that they can be corrected. Ray is offered an obscene amount of money by the CIA to test a top secret corporately funded prison. The Tomb is an experiment in escape proof prisons. The location is secret and unlike most prisons, since it’s run by a for-profit corporation, if you have enough money to pay them to keep somebody you don’t like locked up for as long as you like, it’s all good.

Turns out that Ray has been set up. Warden Hobbs (Jim Caviezel) informs him that The Tomb was built using Ray’s own textbook he wrote on how to build escape proof prisons. A book Hobbs keeps on his desk. The cell walls are transparent, the robotic looking guards have no problem beating prisoners into submission and Hobbs himself is totally merciless when it comes to maintaining order in his prison. Ray’s support team (Amy Ryan and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) have no idea where he is or how to find him and Lester is no help at all

However, Ray still believes he can break out, using his method of Layout/Routine/Help. But the help this time comes in the hulking form of a fellow prisoner, Emil Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who joins up with Ray. He’ll use his resources in The Tomb to help Ray and in return, when Ray breaks out, he’ll take Rottmayer with him.

Having spent an obscene amount of time during the 1980’s going to see their movies, I was delighted to see Stallone and Schwarzenegger back in action yet again. Yeah, yeah, I know that they’re older…but so am I. The screenplay affords them the opportunity to use their brains and wits more than they did in their past movies. If this had been made during the 80’s, Stallone and Schwarzenegger would simply have beat the hell out of everybody and walked out of the prison.

The surprising thing here is that Schwarzenegger walks away with the acting honors as he’s the comedy relief in this movie. I estimate he’s got 65% of the funny lines in the movie and it’s truly amusing to watch him and Stallone as a musclebound Crosby/Hope pairing. He also has a great scene where he has to provide a distraction for his partner and goes into a religious rant spoken entirely in German. And he proves that he’s still got it in the action scenes. There’s a part where he finally gets his hand on a heavy machine gun and the audience in the theater just about went nuts because we all knew what was coming next.

Almost as good is Faran Tahir as Javed, the leader of the prison’s Muslim population who joins up with Ray and Rottmayer. The way the relationship between him and Rottmayer is really interesting to watch and it’s always a bonus to see a Muslim character in this type of movie depicted as a man of respect, devout faith and intelligence.

Stallone plays a more cerebral character than we’re used to him seeing and I liked how his smarts was displayed. When Ray is explaining how he’s going to execute his plans and breaks it down step by step, it’s jaw-droppingly good the way director Mikael Hafstrom uses CGI diagrams and floor plans to help explain.

Jim Caviezel is nothing less than amazing and if you like him playing a good guy on TV’s “Person of Interest” then you’re going to enjoy even more seeing him play a bad guy. He’s the best kind of bad guy: the one who doesn’t have to raise his voice because he has no doubt he’s in control. Vinnie Jones as his chief enforcer/guard does his usual barking-mad-foaming-at-the-mouth badass. Nothing special here but Vinnie Jones has got this type of role locked down so well it should have his copyright on it.

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Wish I could say more about Amy Ryan and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson but the truth of the matter is that they really don’t have much to do other than yell at Lester about why isn’t he doing anything to find Ray. Sam Neill picks up a neat paycheck for playing The Tomb’s doctor. I hate to see an actor of Sam Neill’s talent wasted and he’s here in this movie for one reason and one reason only: to send an email.

So should you see ESCAPE PLAN? If you’re a fan of 80’s action movies and want to watch a movie that’s a throwback to that decade, Yes. If you’re a fan of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Yes. If you want to watch a decent action thriller that’s a little bit smarter and better acted than it needed to be, Yes.

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115 minutes

Rated R: For violence and language. The “F” bomb must have been dropped about fifty times in this movie so if you’ve got sensitive ears, don’t say I didn’t warn you.